L’HOSPITALET DE LLOBREGAT, Spain – The world’s largest mobile telecommunications trade fair opened its doors on Monday and became a proxy battleground between China’s leading electronics producer and its bitter rivals in the United States, as well as the Spanish state versus regional secessionists.
King Felipe VI of Spain, who arrived to inaugurate the 2019 GSMA Mobile World Congress, was seen smiling awkwardly as he shook hands with an equally embarrassed-looking Quim Torra, the pro-independence president of the region of Catalonia, while China’s Huawei set out its new products to challenge US rival Apple for market supremacy.
The Spanish Royal Household twitter page laconically announced: “the king has inaugurated the GSMA Mobile World Congress 2019, the global reference point of mobile technology.”
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who on Feb. 15 announced snap general elections because Catalan separatist lawmakers voted against his proposed budget in Parliament, was also present at the inauguration, sitting between the king and Torra during the speech-giving.
Although Torra and Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau had not greeted the monarch outside the fair in a bid to avoid being photographed together, the media were able to catch the handshake inside the building.
The king said some 107,000 visitors were expected at the fair and was briefed on latest developments from Google, Ericsson and Huawei.
Huawei launched the Mate X in Barcelona, a new mobile phone that is due to sell from midway through 2019 at 2,299 euros ($2,600), topping Apple’s premium iPhones as well as Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, which will sell for $1,980 the company said.
On Dec. 1 Canadian authorities, at the behest of the US, arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou on charges that she lied to banks about the company’s business in Iran.
The arrest led to a diplomatic row between China, the US and Canada.
The row was aggravated after two Canadian citizens were arrested in China on charges of activities against national security.
The royal entourage then visited the leading Spanish and Catalonian exhibitors, including Telefonica whose president, Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete.
The last time the king, Sanchez and Torra coincided was on Aug. 17 in Barcelona, on the first anniversary of the 2017 Islamic terror attacks in Cambrils and Barcelona.
This time, their meeting took place against the backdrop of the trial in Madrid of Catalan separatist leaders, on charges of allegedly organizing an illegal secessionist referendum on Oct. 1, 2017 and later being involved in a unilateral declaration of independence, among other charges.
The upcoming general elections, set for April 28, will also pit the pro-independence Partido Democratico de Catalunya (PDeCAT) and leftist Republican party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya against Sanchez’s Socialist Party.
Last year’s MWC was overshadowed by the former conservative Spanish government’s decision to invoke the Spanish Constitution’s Article 155, an emergency clause that effectively shut down both the Catalan regional government and parliament.
The region then passed to be governed largely from Madrid after the secessionists’ bid for independence from the rest of Spain.
Torra, at the time, was not yet the president of the region.
The MWC has been held in Barcelona since 2006 and is expected to continue being hosted there until, at least, 2023.
Some weeks ago, however, John Hoffman, CEO of GSM (Groupe Speciale Mobile) Association, the MWC’s mother company, explained that due to last year’s instability in Catalonia they had drawn up a crisis plan in case last year’s edition was canceled in view of the region’s tense political situation and had arranged for two possible congresses at alternative locations outside Spain.
According to MWC estimates, this years’ edition will benefit the Barcelona area to the tune of 473 million euros.
MWC 2019 has an exhibition space of 120,000 m2, some 5,000 m2 more than last year and over 2,300 exhibitors have registered.
This year’s top trendsetters are the 5G technology with its augmented mobile network capacity, terminals equipped with three cameras, foldable-screen mobile phones or even a mighty terabyte (1,000 Gb) micro-SD card.